Takashi Yoshimatsu ‘White Landscapes Op. 47a’: A Tranquil State of Mind

Good afternoon readers, here we are at the penultimate day of my August Alphabet Challenge – never fear though, a new challenge will be announced TOMORROW! But before that point, I must share with you my Y composer, who is Takashi Yoshimatsu. This blog will be on one of the cutest little suites of music ever – White Landscapes. It is a complete change from yesterday’s tempestuous work from Xenakis, so today you really can sit back and relax!

Takashi Yoshimatsu was born in 1953 in Tokyo, Japan where he is known as one of Japan’s greatest Western classical composers. Interestingly, he did not learn music from a young age, in fact it wasn’t until his teens that he became interested in music at all. The symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven appealed a lot to Yoshimatsu in his mid-teens, which spurred him on to learn the keyboard and start to compose his own works. What I really like about Yoshimatsu is that he is a self-taught composer, and he helped himself by joining jazz and rock ensembles to further and better his style. He studied in the department of technology at Keio University, although he always kept music near the forefront of his life. His first work, Threnody to Toki was premiered in 1981 and received very positive reviews (it’s a fantastic work, check it out!). Since then he has written 6 symphonies, 10 concertos and a wealth of other orchestral and chamber works. His style is described in a free neo-romantic style, which centres around atonality. Yoshimatsu draws a lot of influences from jazz, rock and Japanese classical music. Yoshimatsu is also known for his writings on music and musicology essays. He is also a keen artist, which definitely explains some of his music. I find his style incredibly simple, yet very effective at the same time.

White Landscapes was composed in 1991, and sadly there is barely any information on it at all. So I will try my best to analyse this. The piece is scored for flute, cello, harp and string orchestra. The work is in three movements:

I. Divination by Snow (Adagio)

II. Stillness in Snow (Moderato)

III. Disappearance of Snow (Largo)

Just by the titles of these movements there are some interesting facts we can decipher. Firstly, the title gives this away a bit, but these titles emphasise the idea of snow and weather being a crucial theme within the work. This means that nature is also at the heart of piece, which can be heard in the music (I will discuss this in the analysis section). Secondly, the three tempo markings for the movements are all slow, which means there is no conventional fast-slow-fast framework. It’s essentially slow-slightly faster but still slow-very slow. Now I am a sucker for a good adagio or largo movement in a large-scale work, so when I came across this work and realised it was all slow I was incredibly interested. The calmness of the atmosphere is certainly emphasised by the slow tempos that are directed by Yoshimatsu.

So if we pick apart these titles, the first: Divination by Snow, perhaps is foreseeing what is coming, maybe a cold winter? Or, the way I’d like to imagine it, is that Yoshimatsu is looking out of his window as he tries to compose, snow is falling and he himself is thinking about what is going to happen to the natural land. The second, Stillness in Snow, is more contemplative and retrospective perhaps. I think Yoshimatsu is actually appreciating the snow here, seeing it as less of a nuisance and more of a blessing. Finally the third, Disappearance of Snow, is more self-explanatory, as the snow melts away, Yoshimatsu thinks about how its affected the natural world around him. I find the connectives interesting, going through ‘by’, ‘in’ and ‘of’ snow, making it a multi-dimensional thing. Of course this is just my interpretation of the titles as there is nowhere that says otherwise. Interpretation is good for your creative mind, so I would love to know what you think of the titles! Lets move on to the main event: the music!

I. Divination by Snow 

The first movement is around 4 minutes in length, and is absolutely stunning. It begins with the flute playing very quietly and growing into the F# it is playing. In the second bar the harp enters with a counter-melody, which the flute answers with a sextuplet which leads to a note bend. I see this note bend as a sign of wind, or a change in direction in which the snow is falling. The string orchestra act as an accompaniment underneath. The texture is very sparse and the next section sees the cello double with the flute with a beautiful counter-melody. Fast sextuplets are used to create texture in and around the more sparse sections. If you imagine snow falling to this music you’ll completely get what Yoshimatsu is doing here. The metre changes from 3/4 to 5/8, which gives it a rocking compound time feel. If any kind of quaint dissonance is heard, it is soon resolved. The adagio section (C), is in 6/8 and the harp plays a wonderful scalic pattern, with the flute and cello playing different simple melodies, that just seem to fit together. This section is the fastest of this movement. The 5/8 motif returns again, though this time on harp alone. The harp is usually used to modulate back to the tonic chords and release any tension. A wonderful 6/4 section begins, with the cello playing a variation of the main melody. The flute then shadows this and the motif is passed between the two ‘soloists’. The string orchestra and harp play long chords, which feel quite static, like Yoshimatsu is looking around at the natural land. The 5/8 sections returns, and is repeated first loudly, and the second time very quietly. The movement ends on the resolved chord played by the whole ensemble.

II. Stillness in Snow 

The second movement is the fastest of all three sections, however the tempo is still very slow. The strings ensemble play a static chord progression, with the harp playing the moving part within the accompaniment. On top of this, the cello is playing the very simple, but very pretty solo. I feel this movement is about the enjoyment of the snow now that it has fallen. The metre changes a lot between different compound times, although this is not always obvious. The flute then plays a variation of the solo, which leads us back into the cello solo and a reprise of the introduction. The metre goes back into a simple 3/4 and the flute has the moving part now. The texture becomes thicker and the whole ensemble have a moving part and the two soloist double each other with the main theme and variations are also heard. The 3/4 section returns, with the cello now playing the moving part. The flute then plays in its lower register on chord changes. The movement ends with a magical glissando by the harp.

III. Disappearance of Snow

The third and final movement of this mini suite is perhaps my favourite of them all. Marked Largo, this movement is definitely the slowest. It begins with the harp on its own, playing a simple melody based around an arpeggiated motif. The snow is melting and leaving the world at this point. The nervous and quiet nature is ever so beautiful here. I feel a certain sadness within this movement, like Yoshimatsu does not want this snow to leave now. After this, the string ensemble and cello enter, with the harp repeating the introductory pattern. The flute enters with a semiquaver and triplet pattern, which perfectly embellishes the rest of the ensemble. The work ends with every instrument holding a tied note except for the harp, which then plays one more quaver arpeggio before ending the piece.

The simple repeated motifs and quiet nature of Yoshimatsu’s music makes it just the easiest thing to listen to. I think his music is very touching and an absolute joy to the ears. It’s calm, yet it bears deeper messages of hope and sadness. White Landscapes is a wonderful work which I urge you to listen to – it’s only about 9 minutes long! It is so very pretty and pushes you to make you own creative interpretations. I often sit and listen to Yoshimatsu when I feel stressed or even sad, and his music always makes me feel better within myself. A fantastic Japanese gem of a composer – enjoy! Sadly, this is the penultimate day of my August Alphabet Challenge, so tomorrow is of course…day Z! Make sure you look out for the Z blog as it’ll be a corker! Some more exciting announcements will be shared with you all soon too, so watch this space!

I would like to dedicate this blog to someone who I love and admire very much – Olivia Doust. She has a beautiful soul, just like this work. I hope you love this work just as much as I do Liv – much love chica x

Happy Reading!

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